Restraint of Federal Court Proceedings by State Court - Breach of Settlement Agreement - Ex Parte Robert Przybysz


Ex parte Robert Przybysz, [Ms. 1160381, Sept. 1, 2017] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2017). In a decision by Justice Parker, (Stuart, C.J., and Bolin, Shaw, Main, Wise, Bryan, and Sellers, JJ., concur, and Murdock, J., concurs in the result), the Court issues a writ of mandamus vacating a portion of an order of the Jefferson Circuit Court which required petitioners to dismiss an action they had filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. In the circuit court action, the parties had entered a settlement agreement which called for payments over a period of 30 months. The circuit court case remained pending and was placed on the administrative docket. When one of the parties allegedly breached the settlement agreement, the petitioners filed the federal court suit. The circuit court reasoned that it “continues to retain jurisdiction of this matter and of the execution of the settlement per the agreement of the parties,” and ordered petitioners to dismiss the federal action. Ms. *5. The Court vacated the circuit court’s order.

The Court applied Donovan v. City of Dallas, 377 U.S. 408 (1964), where the United States Supreme Court held that “state courts are completely without power to restrain federal-court proceedings in in personam actions like the one here. It does not matter that the prohibition here was addressed to the parties rather than to the federal court itself.” Ms. *9.

Other portions of the Donovan case relied upon by the Court which are of note is that where a strictly in personam judgment is sought, state and federal courts with concurrent jurisdiction and may proceed “at least until judgment is obtained in one of them which may be set up as res judicata in the other.” Ms. *9. “An exception has been made in cases where a court has custody of property, that is, proceedings in rem or quasi in rem. In such cases, this Court has said that the state or federal court having custody of such property has exclusive jurisdiction to proceed.” Ms. *8-9.

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